Students from Bradfields Academy in Chatham braved the cold, wind and rain to take part in the first in a series of work experience placements at the heritage farm park, Kent Life.

The young people, who all have mild to moderate learning disabilities, spent time looking after animals, doing ground maintenance and working in the tea room. It’s all part of an initiative between ThinkForward and Kent Life in Maidstone to provide a day of work experience every month until at least September for a group of 12 students.

ThinkForward runs a long-term coaching programme in Bradfields Academy called MoveForward, which supports students into sustainable paid employment. Work experience is a vital part of preparing all young people to get ready to find a job, but it can be difficult to find employers who have the time and resources to host them. At the same time there is competition for places from other schools and employability programmes.

Alison Miller, education and employment coordinator at ThinkForward said: ‘Regular work experience at Kent Life is a fantastic opportunity for the students and the aim is that they will each get at least three visits. By providing consistent and ongoing placements, Kent Life is acting as a role model to other local employers.

‘Young people can gain an understanding of their skill set, different work environments, what jobs they enjoy and areas they can improve upon. This will help them to make informed decisions about their future as well as building a local talent pool of work-ready young people.’

The students all enjoyed their day despite the inclement weather. Bobby who is 17 said: ‘I’m interested in doing car mechanics so I hope I can get to use some of the tractors and machinery on another visit. But at the end of the day I don’t know exactly what job I want to do, so it’s really good to get experience of something new.’

Fifteen-year-old Keziah believes that the placements are relevant for what she would like to do when she’s older: ‘I fed the chickens and collected the eggs and cleaned out the rabbits. It was fun and hard work. It’s good to come here because it gives me experience of what a real job is like. When I leave school, I’d like to teach people how to ride horses and the next time I’m here I would like to be able to look after and muck out the farm’s horses.’

Amelia, 17, got the best job of the day working indoors in the warm tea room. She explained: ‘First I had a tour of the kitchen and then I made the baguettes. I learned how to make different drinks like coffees and hot chocolate using the big machine which was a lot different from doing it at home. The clue is in the name ‘work experience’ – it was all good experience and I can now see myself working somewhere like this doing catering. I enjoyed it a lot.’

Nikki Thomson is the lead teaching assistant for the sixth form at Bradfields Academy. She said: ‘This has been fabulous for the students. Everybody mucked in and had a go. It has given the young people a real sense of worth and they can see the reasons for doing it.

‘It can be hard to get the students work experience and it’s fantastic that Kent Life is providing meaningful placements. The students want to do proper jobs and being here allows them to see that they can. Coming regularly means they get a chance to progress and do different things. The staff were fantastic because they explained what to do then left them to get on with it, which was really nice because the students were given the responsibility.’

Natalie Cox, general manager at Kent Life said: ‘We are very proud to provide regular work experience and volunteer placements as we believe Kent Life has so much to offer. We work with many different companies, schools and colleges year-round and our team are dedicated to helping our volunteers learn and grow with genuine hands-on experience. The volunteers’ input and enthusiasm are invaluable to us and it is also an extremely rewarding scheme for our team to be a part of.’

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